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The fire-ravaged town of Lahaina on the island of Maui in Hawaii.


Fires undermine tourism in B.C., Maui

Tourist operators in both British Columbia and Hawaii are suffering as a result of catastrophic wildfires. Both want and need potential customers to return, though travel restrictions remain in the parts of B.C. that are still on fire.

In Maui, 115 are confirmed dead and hundreds remain missing as a result of the wildfires in Lahaina, which experts blame on climate change. The blazes destroyed the historic town, and more than 8,000 people have been thrown out of work by the sudden collapse of the tourism industry. Still, other parts of Maui remain open for business, and tourism operators in those areas are hoping visitors will return before they go broke.

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After a summer from hell, will voters embrace climate action?

Pierre Poilievre, leader of Canada’s Conservative Party, is having a pretty good summer. He’s holding well-attended “Axe the tax” rallies across the country, promising to get rid of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his unpopular carbon tax, which is hitting drivers at the pumps.

This week, though, Poilievre had to postpone rallies in British Columbia and the Yukon because of wildfires that have forced tens of thousands to flee their homes and burned 15 million hectares of bush, leaving an area the size of Illinois in ashes. Since the carbon tax was designed to reduce the emissions that contributed to these catastrophic fires, it was bitterly ironic that Poilievre’s campaign against the tax was interrupted by the fires, but he is not changing course.

In both Canada and the United States, this has been a hellish summer, with so much climate-related extreme weather that it is hard to keep track. The summer started with wildfires and floods in typically temperate Nova Scotia. Heat records have fallen in Arizona. Ocean water the temperature of a hot tub has killed coral in the turquoise waters of the Florida Keys. A deadly fire laid waste to tropical Maui. A hurricane hit L.A.

Have voters been listening?

For decades, climate scientists have been warning these disasters would come if we don’t reduce the emissions that are warming the planet. Now that the disasters have started, will people recognize the urgency of the problem?

“That is the multi-trillion dollar question,” says Shari Friedman, Eurasia Group’s managing director for climate and sustainability, who has been working on climate since the 1990s.

“When I started on climate change, the assumption was that people weren't believing this, but that when people saw the effects, they would start to see it .. Now, I think the question is a little bit different because we're seeing the effects – it's pretty clear. And the question now is, what is going to change these trajectories?”

Climate scientists have done heroic work on a massive scale to understand and describe the processes that are causing extreme weather. But this has failed to convince voters to do what is necessary to bring down the emissions that are causing ecosystems to dissipate heat in ways that threaten human existence.

People are not wising up. The Pew Research Center, which tracks attitudes toward climate around the world, has observed a decline in the number of Americans who consider it a major threat, from 59% in 2018 to 54% in 2022.

The role of disinformation

Canadian pollster Frank Graves, of EKOS Research Associates, observed the same decline in Canada over the last three years, which he attributes to online disinformation. To many people, he says, climate change “is fake news. This is made up. This is a plot by the woke left to collect their useless carbon tax.”

In his most recent poll of Canadians, this month, while wildfires were top of mind, Graves observed that a growing number of people — mostly conservatives — blame arson, not extreme weather, for the blazes. (This is a pattern of misinformation found wherever there are wildfires.) Voters who believe fires are caused by arson, not a warming globe, will not support policies to reduce emissions.

“The patterns of who gets this disinformation are very, very similar in Canada and the United States,” Graves says, “because they are emanating from the same sources. And those sources are now telling people climate change is a hoax, and these forest fires are either just bad luck or, more pointedly, they are being produced by arsonists, saboteurs, activists.”

The issue, in both countries, is divided along partisan lines, with conservatives less willing than liberals to accept the views of climate scientists.

Riley Dunlap, emeritus professor at Oklahoma State University, has been studying American attitudes about environmentalism since the first Earth Day in 1970. He watched as the issue, which used to be of concern across partisan lines, became polarized in the 2000s. Now, he notes, opposing climate policy is an identity issue for Republicans – it’s up there with “God, guns, gays, and abortion.”

He has watched with dismay as opinions got harder, with Trump followers going against anything liberals support. Some 40% of Americans do not believe humans are causing climate change.

Researchers at American universities have found that attitudes about personal experiences of extreme events appear “socially constructed and interpreted through ideological lenses, rather than driven by individuals’ objective experiences of changes in weather and climate.”

Researchers found that hot, dry days — as opposed to sudden, extreme weather events — seem to convince some people that climate change is real.

“So far, actual experience doesn't seem to have had a significant effect,” Dunlap said. “But I'm open to the possibility that personal experiences and media coverage could be really shaking people up.”

If you thought this summer was bad …

Gerald Butts, vice chairman of Eurasia Group, who helped Trudeau implement Canada’s carbon tax, points out that researchers will have more opportunities to carefully study the effect of extreme weather on public opinion.

“This is the hottest summer of your life, but it's going to be one of the coolest of the rest of your life. Sure it's weird that the remnants of a hurricane are flooding the California desert while the northern part of the continent is burning. But we're going to see versions of that in every northern hemisphere summer for the rest of our lives.

“I think the deeper question is — because human beings are nothing if not adaptable — and part of that adaptation mechanism is, how do we tune out the things we don't want to see or hear? I mean, as these things get weirder and weirder, what is the new normal for what people can absorb, or will absorb, and react to?”

Smoke rises next to sunbeams and umbrellas as a wildfire burns, at the beach of the village of Dikella in the region of Evros, Greece.


Hard Numbers: Greece’s wildfire tragedy, Pakistan’s cable car nightmare, Japan’s radioactive water, Sudan’s hungry children

18: The Greek fire service said Tuesday that 18 bodies, possibly of migrants, were found in an area of the Dadia forest along the Turkish border that’s been hit by wildfires. Local media have reported the findings of eight additional bodies – if confirmed, this would bring the total to 26. Large swaths of southern Europe are fighting wildfires and on alert due to extreme heat and high winds.

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The McDougall Creek wildfire burns next to houses in the Okanagan community of West Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada.

REUTERS/Chris Helgren

Hard Numbers: Canada fires, Israelis killed, Nicaraguan visas, Niger junta's plans … and where was William?

30,000: At least 30,000 households in British Columbia, Canada, have been told to evacuate, with another 36,000 homes on alert, as the province battles an unprecedented number of wildfires. Further north, 20,000 residents of Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories, have also been ordered to leave their homes. Overall, 1,000 fires are burning across Canada in what is now the country’s worst fire season on record.

3: Two Israeli men were killed on Saturday in a suspected Palestinian attack at a West Bank car wash, and on Monday, an Israeli woman was shot and killed in Hebron. Since the start of 2023, Palestinian attacks against Israelis have claimed 30 lives while nearly 180 Palestinians have been killed in the worst spate of violence in the region in 20 years.

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Yellowknife residents leave the city on Highway 3, the only highway in or out of the community, after an evacuation order was given due to the proximity of wildfires in the Northwest Territories.


Hard Numbers: Fiery evacuations, China snubs Canada, Afghan refugees, gender-based violence “epidemic”

13.2 million: Wildfires in Canada’s Northwest Territories have prompted the government to deploy the military to facilitate mass evacuations. Residents in the capital city of Yellowknife, the largest city in the region, have been urged to evacuate immediately. So far this summer, fires across Canada have destroyed 13.2 million hectares (32.6m acres) of land – an area roughly the size of Greece. Meanwhile, the death toll in devastated Hawaii has risen to 111 as rescue workers begin the process of identifying bodies.

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A view of the damage caused by wildfires in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii.

Senator Brian Schatz via Instagram/via REUTERS

Maui fires fan political flames

With 96 people confirmed dead, more than a thousand still unaccounted for, and an estimated $5.6 billion in rebuilding costs, last week’s Maui wildfires are shaping up to be one of the US’ most devastating natural disasters. The catastrophe may also set the scene for nasty political battles in the run-up to the 2024 presidential election.

Over the weekend, Republican US Rep. Lauren Boebert questioned why President Joe Biden remained on vacation in Delaware, railing on X, formerly known as Twitter, that "There is a total crisis in Maui. 3,000 destroyed homes. 80 people dead. Where's Joe Biden? On vacation of course. There is no bottom for this president.”

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An aerial view of a wildfire in Kihei, Maui County, Hawaii.

Clint Hansen of Maui Real Estate Radio/TMX via REUTERS

Maui fires kill at least 36 people

Hawaii’s wildfires have claimed at least 36 lives. The historic, western coast town of Lahaina has been ripped apart, with 271 buildings destroyed by the blazes. Relatives of people living in the region are worried about missing family members, and thousands remain without power.

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"We are destroying our planet and we are not paying attention," says UN chief António Guterres
António Guterres: “We Are Destroying Our Planet and We Are Not Paying Attention” | GZERO World

"We are destroying our planet and we are not paying attention," says UN chief António Guterres

A year ago, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told Ian Bremmer on GZERO World that the world was on the edge of an abyss in dealing with climate change.

Since then, we haven't fallen off, but unfortunately he says climate has become a "second-rate issue."

That doesn't mean, of course, that the problem has gone away. Russia may be at war with Ukraine, but we're at war with the planet, and the planet is striking back — as we've seen with the recent floods in Pakistan.

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